us soccer

History lesson: Upsets can and do happen in regional Olympic qualifying

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Here’s a little something to stir into your morning Cheerios; a little bulk of soccer knowledge to fiber up your day:

I know that Olympic qualifying against the regional “minnows” might seem like so much formality. The United States’ group includes Cuba (up first tonight), El Salvador and Canada. (A good primer on regional Olympic qualifying is here.)

The region’s other power, Mexico, has Honduras, Panama and Trinidad-Tobago in Group B to swat away. Or so it would seem.

The top pair from each group advances into the tournament semifinals. In all honesty, the shock meter would register “massive” if the United States or Mexico doesn’t move into the all-important semis. And yet, danger does exist.

Upsets can and have happened before in this tournament. Quite recently, in fact. Just ask the United States. Or Mexico.

In 2004, Mexico and Costa Rica qualified for the Athens games out of the CONCACAF region. See who’s missing there? The U.S. under-23 side ran up against Mexico during qualifying and came out on the wrong side of a 4-0 whuppin. You might recognize a few names from that American team: Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Kyle Beckerman, for instance.

In 2008, it was Mexico’s turn to wet the CONCACAF bed.  In this case, the young El Tri didn’t even make it out of group play.  Guatemala and Canada emerged, leaving Mexico to deal with the ugly and embarrassing aftermath. (By the way, those 2008 group matches happened on the very same Home Depot Center field where Friday night’s Group B matches take place.)

More recent still, the U.S. under-20 side failed to emerge just over a year ago from regional qualifying for the FIFA under-20 World Cup. In fact, several members of Caleb Porter’s current under-23 side were on the team that failed to qualify for Colombia 2011, a downfall that cost Thomas Rongen his position at U.S. Soccer.  Perry Kitchen, Zarek Valentin, Amobi Okugo and Joe Gyau, now in Nashville with the U.S. under-23s, were members of Rongen’s would-be FIFA World Cup qualifier.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.